Friday, April 1, 2016

Blue Angels Over Fort Pickens

Our current home is Fort Pickens Campground located on the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Its remote location on a barrier island between Pensacola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico intrigued us. We love the miles of uncrowded, pristine beaches and the historical fort all within walking distance of our site. 

Soon after we arrived, we discovered an added bonus ... it provided the perfect viewing area for the US Navy's elite Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron practice sessions. Their homebase is the Pensacola Naval Air Station which is located just across the bay from us.


When we arrived, we met up with another Minnesota couple whom we first met last November. We were happy to help Joanne celebrate her birthday with homemade bread (recipe found here) and coffee on our "patio" while we planned our day. 

Joanne and Gary did the research and informed us that the Blue Angels practice sessions occur on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11:30 to 12:15 in Pensacola. The Naval airstrip is an hour away by car, but just a mile "as the crow flies" across the bay channel. So we hopped on our bikes and made our way to the Fort Pickens historical site located a mile west of the campground.

Being spring break week, people of all ages were lined up along the shore to watch the practice.

Doug had the "long lens" camera ready to capture the show.

With the first thundering flyover, we realized that we were in for a show unlike anything else we have ever encountered. The power and precision of the pilots filled us with a feeling of awe ... we had primo seats for a show of a lifetime! Doug, through a series of photos, was able to put these files together to give you an idea of the amazing air acrobatics ... I love his "nerdly" talents!

After the 45 minute practice session was over, we meandered over to Fort Pickens for our history lesson and tour. The pentagonal military fort, constructed using 21.5 million bricks, was completed in 1834. The fort was used through World War II to protect Pensacola Bay and ultimately, the southern United States.

As the largest of four forts in the harbor, Fort Pickens was occupied by Union forces during the Civil War.  Some historians believe that the first shots of the Civil War actually occurred here in January of 1861 as Union soldiers prevented local men from taking over the fort.

After the visitor center, we were able to walk through the fort. The thick walls and ornate brick arches built with the 21.5 million bricks have held up fairly well against gunfire and hurricanes through the years.

That is, until 1898, when a fire in the munitions storage area caused an explosion that literally blew away one of the walls of the fortress. Bricks and debris are said to have landed across the bay miles away! The fort's five walls were reduced to four.

There is so much to appreciate about the fort, that it was hard to take it all in during our first visit. But, fortunately for me ... we are here for 10 more days. There will be many more opportunities to take a walk through history!

Until next time ... walk with a friend ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

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  1. Very cool animation, Doug! We've seen the Blue Angels before and we've marveled at their tight flying formation. How fun to have a ring-side seat to their practice sessions. From your account, Fort Pickens has earned a place on our bucket list.

  2. Definitely a unique experience! The one concern is the fact that they are subject to flooding if there is any major rain and wind as the island is only 2 inches above sea level! We lucked out despite the all day rain on Friday, although quite a few campsites had new "ponds".